Memorandum submitted by Paul Shabajee and Sarah Raynes

 

Summary

 

Significant and clearly evidenced concerns over quality, thoroughness, unthought-though implications and bias.

Fundamental lack of research base on which to base such sweeping changes

Omissions of home-educators or experts in home-education from the review team

Clear indications of bias towards pre-determined outcomes

No risk assessment of the recommendations or analysis of potential un-intended consequences of the recommendations

Lack of validation of the recommendations

Apparent presumption of 'guilt' - sweeping and unfounded changes in relationship between parents and the state

Lack of consultation with or voice of children.

Confusing school-targets with education & learning

 

Submission

 

1. Context: Having read the report and many comments and thoughts from other interested parties, we have significant concerns about the quality, thoroughness, apparent lack of understanding of the implications and apparent bias implicit in the report. Many other issues are raised in other submissions that we are aware of and we have therefore focused on a number that have not been more widely raised.

2. Lack of research base and grounded evidence: The report makes recommendations that require changes to fundamental legislation, dramatic changes in the role of Local Authorities (LA) in relation to home-educators and their children, and may significantly undermine many of the most positive aspects of 'education otherwise than school' and yet these recommendations are based (on the basis of the evidence in the report itself) on very little validated research evidence.

This is noted a number of times in the report itself (e.g. extensively in sections 4, 6, 8 and 10) and implicit in the report itself though its lack of presentation or indeed use of validated or peer reviewed statistics, scholarly research findings or other validated evidence on which to basis its conclusions.

A further concern with regard to the validity of the findings are related to apparent examples of bias in presentation (see bias below).

 

3. Makeup of the review team: As we understand no member of the review team was directly associated with home education. This is a very odd decision, rather like reviewing school education without having anyone who had taught in schools (or even been a student) on the review committee. Were the situation reversed we doubt this would be seen as acceptable or valid.

4. Bias: There are a large number of places where there appears to be bias towards a predetermined outcome. Examples include, limited direct quotes in the report of home-educators or organisations that represent home-educators compared to emphasis given to the views of some organisations, e.g. Section 4.7 and 4.8 that while they are associated with school or church-based education, they have no a priori expertise or even knowledge of the actual practice of home education; there is certainly no evidence of such in the report. It is unclear why these views are given such prominence.

There are numerous similar instances where evidence for the recommendations of the report are given prominence but evidence or views against them are noticeable only by their absence or dismissal on the basis of dubious grounds, e.g. because of the diversity of opinion within the home-education community, a diversity of opinion does not make them invalid or unable to be analysed for worthwhile points.

 

5. No mention of risks or potential negative impacts of the recommendations: There appears to have been no assessment of the potential impacts of the recommendations beyond those the 'desired' outcomes. Specifically there does not seem to have been any risk assessment or analysis of the potential negative unintended consequences of the recommendations.

Given the lack of research evidence noted above and the foci of the review (welfare, education and child protection) this seems particularly disturbing. Given the complexity of each of these areas alone it seems very unlikely that there will not be un-intended consequences of the recommendations. Given the dramatic changes proposed in some cases, if un-intended consequences and their associated risks have not be assessed this is a very serious omission, for example:

 

there seems to be a serious risk that the recommendations will undermine the many positive aspects of home education and so creating a reduction in the quality of education for 1000s of home educated children, e.g. the report states that "I have met some extraordinarily accomplished young people who have prospered as a consequence of elective home education of whom their parents are justly proud, ...", and yet does not re-visit this situation in the context of the recommendations.

it possible that the recommendations will inadvertently force some children and their families into distressing and negative situations

there a risk that already scarce resources will need to be moved from other child services to pay for what must be an expensive and administratively complex system, thereby taking resources from high risk area to one with a relatively lower risk.

Are there any aspects of the recommendations that might increase the risk to children? The answer is logically yes, of course scenarios can be imagined where this would be the case, the question is have those risks been identified and assessed?

what are the risks to children if Local Authorities implement the recommendations poorly or if individual Local Authority officers are antagonistic, in some reasons and particularly supportive to home-education in others, leading to different regions of the UK having different de facto policies and practices in reality?

etc.


Given that such an assessment has not been conducted then it reinforces the view that the report is biased towards evidence in favour the recommendations.

6. Lack of validation of the recommendations: It is unclear that the review team have conducted a 'reality check' on their recommendations.

One aspect of this is a risk assessment (see above), one particularly problematic omission is that while the report states,:

"I have taken account of the views of local authorities who are strongly of the opinion that the current guidelines are unworkable in that they are contradictory and confer responsibility without power."

There seems to have been no return assessment to ask those same organisations if they believe the new proposals to be workable.

7. Apparent presumption of guilt: one recommendation that seems particularly poorly thought through is the recommendation 7.

"That designated local authority officers should:

- have the right of access to the home;

- have the right to speak with each child alone if deemed appropriate or, if a child is particularly vulnerable or has particular communication needs, in the company of a trusted person who is not the home educator or the parent/carer.

 

In so doing, officers will be able to satisfy themselves that the child is safe and well."

 

This is a fundamental change to the relationship of parents (indeed citizens) with the state and is based on the assumption that without any cause for concern whatsoever the government official has right of access to a child alone. This is not appropriate and proportionate to the risk. We understand that no other authorities have such powers.

Nor is it clear that this mechanism would work even if implemented. Many school children suffer abuse and yet they have access to and are observed almost daily by many school staff.

It is not at all clear from the report that there is validated evidence that the incidence of abuse is higher in home-educating families than the general population. We are unaware of any robust or validated research that provides these figures even for current data. We understand that since the review team's research that others, via freedom of information act requests, have collated more comprehensive results that appear to show lower identified incidence in home-education families.

 

The report notes that "... the number of children known to children's social care in some local authorities is disproportionately high relative to the size of their home educating population.", as evidence for the need for such measures is wholly inappropriate since it is very to be expected that many children will have been home-educated by their parents precisely because they have needs and problems that the parents believe that school is not able to support effectively.

 

Indeed the fact of involvement of support services, may indicate that parents are responsibly making use of the services to the benefit of their children disproportionately to the general population.

 

Without analysis of the underlying reasons it is far from clear. The review team provide no analysis of the reasons for families being 'known' while this would no-doubt have been possible.

 

Many have pointed out that a logical conclusion of this thinking is that all families with pre-school children should be assessed in a similar way, a fact mentioned by the report itself (8.1). Would such a scheme be seen as acceptable or appropriate?

 

The review team seem not to have understood the enormity of the implications of this recommendation.

8. Lack of consultation with or voice of children: The voice of children in the document is noticeable only by its almost complete absence! The views, thoughts, feelings and underlying needs of individual children is seen by many, probably the majority of, home educators as central to decisions about their learning and their well being. Indeed it is a fundamental part of the philosophy of education of many home educators. The fact that this report does not apparently give them a significant voice in this discussion is perhaps indicative of the fact that they those behind this report do not share that view?

We feel that without that voice, this report is severely flawed. Once again it also points to the lack of understanding of home education by the review team.

 

9. Confusing school-targets for education & learning: There appears to be a very significant lack of understanding of educational approaches used by home educators and their children, e.g. child-centered, personalised, responsive, informal learning. In particular recommendation 1 includes; "At the time of registration parents/carers/guardians must provide a clear statement of their educational approach, intent and desired/planned outcomes for the child over the following twelve months."

This recommendation seems to be founded on the concept of 'target setting' that is fundamentally at odds with responsive and personalised approaches to education which are themselves compatible with both research and many theories of learning - e.g. summarised as we learn best what and though what we are interested in, when we are interested in it.

Targets/curriculum outcomes in school-based education are very tightly controlled on short timescales. This is not because education research or theory indicates that setting short term targets is the optimal educational process. Such targets help schools organise what are very complex organisational contexts and manage learning on an hour to hour, term to term, year to year basis for 100s often 1000+ children. There is *very* limited room for flexibility. Indeed the government is experimenting with how schools can 'personalise' learning < http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/personalisedlearning/> in a school context and there is a great deal of experimentation going on (we understand) to find how to do it given restrictions on time, resource, etc.

Home educators can pay more individual attention to their 'students' and take much longer term view of their learning, they *can* be reflexive to the individual needs, interests, learning opportunities in their community and much more widely, as they arise - something teachers in schools would love to be able to do! They will have 'goals' but they are longer term and will change in response to the child and their context.

This recommendation is founded on a fundamental confusion of the nature of effective learning with administrative need. It shows that although the review team may have talked to many home educators and perhaps educationalists they have not grasped the fundamental differences and in particular one of the most educationally positive aspects of home-education.

This recommendation is perhaps the one that most fully demonstrates the lack of competence of the team with regard to learning rather than 'schooling'.

 

September 2009